Immigration issue centre stage in UK election


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pussyfooted around over immigration, the Conservative leader Michael Howard claimed today.

Most Britons, whatever their race, want firm but fair controls on the numbers coming into the country, according to Mr Howard. And he rejected suggestions that his proposals, which include an annual limit, make him a "traitor" to his immigrant roots.

However, Mr Howard's stance came under renewed attack from former Tory immigration minister Charles Wardle.

Mr Wardle, who served under the Tory leader when he was Home Secretary, said Tory policies are "uncosted, unworkable and likely to make immigration and asylum problems worse not better".

They showed Mr Howard was unfit to be Prime Minister while Labour's proposals were "substantial, thought-through and likely to be effective", he said.

Conservatives see immigration, one of the few where they lead Labour in the polls, as a key vote winner in the May 5th election. Party posters across the country proclaim: "It's not racist to place limits on immigration."

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams last week suggested it was racist to stir up anxiety over the issue. But, speaking in Telford, Mr Howard said the subject had been a "no-go area" for politicians for too long.

"If you said you thought that too many people were coming here, you were branded a racist. Well - let's be clear. "It's not racist to talk about immigration. It's not racist to criticise the system. It's not racist to want to limit the numbers. It's just plain common sense. "I think it is offensive to brand as racist hard-working people who worry about the chaos in our immigration system.

"If we don't speak up now and have a proper debate about immigration we'll only help the bigots who preach racial hatred and the people smugglers who profit from other people's misery."

Mr Howard has proposed 24-hour security at ports and a new Border Control Police force to combat illegal immigration.